Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian has lined up a host of chefs and celebrities to take part in “The Great New York Foodathon,” a fundraising special to air April 17 on Fox-owned WNYW and WWOR in New York.
The hourlong special will raise money to support City Harvest, the respected nonprofit that helps distribute millions of pounds of excess food from restaurants, grocery stores and farms to food pantries, soup kitchens and other community organizations. Fox has donated the 7-8 p.m. hour to the special, which will air commercial free. Zakarian, a notable chef and restaurateur who holds the coveted “Iron Chef” title, will serve as host and is producing the special through his Corner Table Entertainment in partnership with Content.23 Media.
John Legend, Neil Patrick Harris, Bobby Flay, Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Ripert, Michael Strahan, Jim Gaffigan, Kristin Chenoweth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kevin Bacon, Brooke Shields, Matt Bomer, Julianna Margulies, Chelsea Clinton and Katie Couric are among the stars set to offer performances and testimonials about the urgent need to support City Harvest.
Demand for the organization’s food donations has skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic lockdown, which has come at the cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the New York area alone.
Zakarian and his producing partner Jaret Keller had eyed fundraising specials to help organizations dealing with hunger as prime target for production when the two formed Corner Table in early 2017. As the coronavirus fallout spread, the two realized that the time was now. Zakarian said he “spent two weeks on the phone” lining up talent, which was not hard given the scope of the need.
“City Harvest is a great organization. It’s well known and it’s now being tested every day,” Zakarian told Variety. “It’s being inundated with requests.”
Zakarian serves on the board of City Harvest and is president of its Food Council, a who’s who of New York culinarians. The greatest need at the moment is not so much food as it is money to help fund operations and the transportation of some 66 million pounds of food that City Harvest distributes each year. JP Morgan Chase is on board as a financial supporter. Financial firm XTX Markets has committed to matching “Foodathon” donations up to $2.5 million.
“While City Harvest has stepped up to feed our city in times of great need before, including following 9/11, the 2008 recession, and Superstorm Sandy, we have never before experienced anything on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are here for the long-haul, working to ensure there’s food for our neighbors throughout this crisis and in the uncertain weeks and months ahead,” said Jilly Stephens, City Harvest CEO.
Zakarian noted that usually about half of the food that City Harvest distributes is fresh produce.
“We don’t give away garbage,” Zakarian said. “It’s always been a very healthy basket of food.”
The special features videos sent in by the participants from their homes and other locations. Flay and fellow chefs Anne Burrell and Michael Symon will offer cooking demonstration segments. Legend delivers a song while Gaffigan provided a comedic bit.
“It’s 58 minutes of uninterrupted love letters to New York,” Zakarian said.
Keller added that Fox responded “within seconds” when the pair took the idea to TV outlets. The special will also be available for streaming on the websites of WNYW and WWOR and via CityHarvest.org. Zakarian, Jaret Keller, Margaret Zakarian and Tara Halper are executive producing for Corner Table Entertainment. Eric Conte and Dan Weinreich exec produce for Content.23 Media.
“We have faith in the success of this special, because during critical times New Yorkers are prepared to step up and help those in need,” said Dan Carlin, VP of programming, research, creative services and public affairs for WNYW and WWOR.
Zakarian has been spending his quarantine time at home in upstate New York with his wife and three children, ages 13, 11 and 6. He has been forced to implement layoffs at his restaurants, which include Midtown’s the Lambs Club. The lack of certainty for a timetable for re-opening is frustrating, which is another reason Zakarian and Keller pushed hard to make “Great New York Foodathon” a reality.
“No one knows when we’re coming back,” Zakarian said. “I think it’s going to take the better part of 2020 to get to some sort of normalcy.”
In the meantime, he has had no shortage of opportunities to stay busy in the kitchen. The Iron Chef is now a home chef who is on the hook to put meals on the table in real time for his family, in addition to doing remote work for Food Network.
“I’ve never worked harder,” Zakarian said. “These kids are getting three Michelin star meals a day.”
(Pictured: Geoffrey Zakarian, Jaret Keller)